This year’s theme for International Women’s Day, #EachforEqual, is a rallying cry with an unequivocal message: the goal of a gender-equal world is a collective endeavour.
I may love the open, egalitarian and inclusive spirit of the sentiment, but I hate the fact that it still has to be said. It’s 2020. Surely every sentient being on the planet knows that equality is not a women’s issue—it’s a business issue. Surely every women’s network, club, Facebook group and Twitter list should be rendered redundant by now?
Apparently not. Not even close. My intention isn’t to throw shade at the likes of Laurence Fox, Piers Morgan and Donald Trump here. Although, in the nanoseconds that have passed since the start of a new decade, it is peculiar how incandescently angry, defensive and dismissive these (yes, super-privileged and, yes, white—albeit occasionally orange) men and their overlapping bands of nutjob trolls have managed to get about gender.
No, I mean us. You and me. Standing in our own backyard.
Bear with me while we break down what #EachforEqual really means for a moment. Because it ought to be simple, but it’s complicated.
In the UK media, marketing and communications industries, we can pat ourselves on the back that women occupy 50% of the roles in the industry (Wacl and LinkedIn study, Deeds Not Words, 2018), but on so many other dimensions that’s precisely where our equality ends.
The same Wacl study showed that women occupy just 36% of leadership roles in our industry. Yep, the leadership gap is real. And, as the network’s campaigning lead, Tanya Joseph, illustrates in this excellently argued piece—written in the face of data showing the pay gap actually widened to 19% last year in UK agencies—the gender pay gap is no less real.
Then there are the vital anti-sexual harassment campaigns, such as TimeTo, which calls time on the finding that 26% of its respondents experienced abuse behaviour and 83% of whom did not officially report the harassment.
If there’s any lingering doubt over whether these issues remain in the workplace, Rose McGowan’s statement after Harvey Weinstein’s conviction for sexual assault last week provides a timely reminder: "The fact that we are white women… and of some means, and it still took this many of us to even get him to have one day in court—just tells you how almost impossible it is to even be heard, period, let alone get any kind of conviction."
Which leads me to what happens when we apply an intersectional lens to gender.
If you are a person of colour, if you are gay, lesbian or queer, if you identify as transgender or non-binary, if you are disabled, if you are neurodiverse… In fact, if you are a woman who is not white, cis, able-bodied and middle class—the gender and sex-related issues you face are multiplied and made manifoldly worse.
What’s more, when it comes to the work our industry is responsible for planning, writing, designing, coding, filming, printing and building, we know we have a long way to go to demonstrate that we understand what women actually want; so much so that we still need to design workshops and write policies geared to end negative stereotypes in advertising and communications.
All of this, I would wager, is why Gillian Wearing’s Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere statue of suffragist Millicent Garrett Fawcett makes grown women sob when they stand in front of it in Parliament Square. It’s also why a near-century-old women’s network such as Wacl still exists to champion female talent and why they still attract new members, year after year.
Redefined in 2018, Wacl’s stated purpose is to accelerate gender equality in communications and marketing. I share this because the Wacl you might know is renowned for its prestigious speaker dinners and breakfasts for members and guests; the opportunities it gives senior women leaders to get together, support and inspire one another. But networks such as Wacl, Bloom UK and She Says all know they have to listen and evolve—now more than ever.
Looking to the future, Wacl and others will keep fighting for women to belong at the top of organisations; to take up the equal and safe space they deserve. The shift that must continue in 2020 and beyond is to ensure these networks continue to turn their energy and influence outwards. For Wacl, this has meant hosting Gather, the annual conference of outstanding talks and the mentoring sessions aimed at inspiring and developing a future generation of female leaders; raising £2.4m over the past 10 years for chosen charities and causes; and partnering Nabs to create the Future Leaders Award; a training grant scheme designed to help aspiring female leaders achieve their potential, now in its 15th year.
It also means campaigning on gender issues and being active allies to anyone who identifies as a woman in our industry; making space for women united by their ambition to lead and desire to make a difference. As Audre Lorde’s widely circulated 1982 quote so perfectly encapsulates: "There is no thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives."
And yet, as I write this, reports of a new index from the United Nations Development Programme appear in my news feed, showing the extent of a global backlash towards women’s rights in the 75 countries surveyed—home to 80% of the world’s population, no less. Describing the numbers as "shocking", the UNDP is calling on governments to introduce legislation and policies to address the ingrained prejudice.
We all know an equal and equitable world is better for everyone and yet there is still so much to do. Which brings us back to #EachforEqual on International Women's Day this Sunday—a statement that welcomes and calls for allies (yes, senior male colleagues, we’re looking at you). If there is one message to take home now, it’s this: it’s on me, it’s on you. It’s on all of us.
Lisa Thomas is global chief brand officer at Virgin.